Date: 15th August, 2009
Location: Makara Peak and Skyline Walkway, Wellington.
Route: Walk up to Makara Peak from South Karori Road, down via Zac’s Track, then along the Skyline Walkway to Mt Kaukau, and Johnsonville via Old Coach Road. (Also see the map at the end of this post.)
[Download GPX ] [LINZ Topographic Map in new window ]
Makara Peak  is a dedicated Mountain Bike park, choca-full of mountain bike tracks that are maintained by the community. This is the second time I’ve been there. The first time (before I was really writing things down), I wandered into a few areas that caused me to be really worried that a speedy bicycle pilot would come careening around a blind corner and run me over. It didn’t feel quite the same this time, though, possibly because I had a better idea of wanting to stay to the wider tracks, and perhaps because there seemed to be less people around.
I live in Northland (the Wellington suburb), and started late (about midday) by walking through the Karori Shops (collecting lunch along the way) to the end of the Karori Park bus route, then up South Karori Road to the main car-park area after about an hour or so. There’s an information board under a small shelter which I went up to take a look at, but it didn’t have much in the way of maps so I turned to leave, and promptly walked straight into a post holding up the shelter’s roof. Ouch. All good, though.
The number of cars had me concerned that there might be lots of people riding around on bikes, but it didn’t eventuate into a problem. I nearly always find people on bikes to be careful, cheerful and considerate in off-road areas both to other bikies and to poor impoverished pedestrians alike, even when they’re in their own playground. Sometimes accidents can still happen though, so the possibility of lots of bikes around had me concerned for a little while. I didn’t meet many people though. I followed my nose upwards until I reached Makara Peak, where a couple of guys with bikes were sitting down staring at the view.
Once again the Makara Wind Farm (aka Project West Wind) dominates the skyline from the top of Makara Peak, which shouldn’t be surprising. The building of the wind farm should be nearly finished now, but what’s there is already operating. Even though it was overcast with some recurring very light rain, the air was still and most of the turbines were barely moving, if at all. Maybe this is why there weren’t as many people obviously riding around, or perhaps I’d only been frequenting the boring places since I’d made sure about half my route up was on the fairly wide servicing road to the top.
There’s another servicing road leading down to the Skyline Carpark, which is my made-up name for the carpark opposite the start of the Skyline Walkway on Makara Road, because I don’t know what bikies call it. As there as almost nobody at the top, though, I thought it would probably also be reasonably okay to walk along Zac’s Track, also noting a big sign that warned bikies that people might be walking on Zac’s Track. It goes to roughly the same place as the road, and the only two people I saw along here were a couple of guys with a bike, a dog, and a bucket of dirt, who were doing some track maintenance. That track ends half way down the road, at which point it’s possible to cross the road and head down another track (with lots of switches) called Varley’s Track… or alternatively down one called Vertigo, which had a big warning sign announcing it should only ever be attempted by expert bikies in good weather. Despite walking, I didn’t think I should check that one out just yet.
Some time after 2pm, I was back down at Makara Road, and commenced walking the Skyline Walkway, which was noticeably vacant of the flocks of people who might often have been walking along it. Perhaps this was because the day wasn’t one of brilliant sunshine. The Skyline Walkway’s undergone some maintenance since I last walked it. Every farm-gate along the track has been improved to have pedestrian cattle stops  alongside them. With so many people walking the route, the council probably got sick of people leaving gates open, or perhaps just having them wear out with so much opening and closing, and the consequence is a much smoother walk around all the gates without having to walk through them.
I went on a detour up Johnston Hill, which I usually do when walking the Skyline Walkway, and for some reason I became very confused. I’m unsure if the ongoing maintenance has caused the routes up Johnston Hill to be altered, but I was just walking up happily when I suddenly noticed all of Wellington City was on the opposite side from what I expected, and I was walking the wrong way. It was really weird to have an orientation flip like that, and despite completely recognising the top, being able to see Mt Kaukau in the distance, it took some careful thinking to convince myself to walk towards it because my brain really wanted to do something different.
It reminded me of a book I read a few years ago (Inner Navigation by Erik Jonsson ), which is full of anecdotes about this kind of thing. Eventually I had to back-track the way I’d come to a point I properly recognised as being the right way around. That probably added about 500 metres to my route, but it was all in good fun. Weird.
It took about 2 hours to reach Mt Kaukau this time. Having left the Skyline Walkway Carpark at Makara Road at around 2.15pm or so, I walked up to the giant television transmitter, without which Wellingtonians wouldn’t be able to enjoy quality free-to-air television like Survivor and the “We’re not going to tell you what shocking thing happened until you watch our commercials” prime time television news. On arriving at this point, which is where all the dog-walking tracks converge and where the lookout platform is, I did something I believe I’ve never done before. I walked to the actual peak of Mt Kaukau.
The actual peak is about 300 metres to the north of the television transmitter. There’s even a giant trig sitting on it which is visible from many places, but it’s not easily visible from the lookout platform area since it’s behind a big clump of trees. There’s a servicing road up to the transmitter from this side that passes to one side of the trees I mentioned earlier. I can only presume there’s not been much problem with people walking the final 300 metres to the actual top of Kaukau. The most obvious visible way back is to first go down to this road, and it seemed a little strange when I found myself separated by a barbed wire fence from the trees I’d recently freely walked through. Why have a barbed wire fence when anyone can just walk around the end? The road led into a maintenance parking area around the transmitter which felt more and more as if I wasn’t supposed to be there, and in the end (because I couldn’t bothered back-tracking), I had to climb a small fence to get to where I wanted to be.
By now it was around 4.40pm, and the sun would be setting in less than an hour. From here, as I was still going in quite good time, I thought I might walk around the Old Coach Road way to get to Johnsonville before hopping onto a train to get home. The track down this way is well signposted, but it splits off to several other streets that have entrances to Mt Kaukau, and I did the same thing that I’ve done three times now, which was to walk straight past a major track junction and find myself approaching a street called Woodmancote Road. Of course, by the time this becomes obvious I’ve walked into a deep hole, and so have to turn around and walk all the way up again, around 600 metres back to the junction which is well sign-posted and very obvious for people coming from this direction. The good news is that this time I was tracking my entire day’s walk with a GPS receiver, and I’ll keep the GPX file so that I’ll be able to follow the same track and make the same mistake every single time I do this from now on.
The Old Coach Road route is a nice way to finish this walk. It’s over farmland, and despite being very accessible, it sidles along hills on the inside of the valleys, which gives the impression that the track is more isolated than it really is. I finally exited at McLintock Street, and from here it’s very easy to simply follow the down-hill roads which lead back to Johnsonville, almost straight to the railway station. All good.